Welcome to a guided journey through the 13 cranial nerves! You can find the playlist on my YouTube channel, and I’ll keep adding one new video per month. I am on vacation this weekend, so a new video will be posted next week.
We have arrived at the second oldest of our senses, the olfactory nerve. It carries chemosensory information from your olfactory bulb straight to your cortex along one pathway, although along another it sends information through your thalamus first, which routes the information to areas specializing in emotion and memory.
I’ll start out by sharing three reasons that smell is important, and end with some suggested explorations that will help you improve, enjoy, and understand your sense of smell.
1) Smell + taste = flavor, and flavor is a key element of pleasure in food.
Smell is way more important to me since I got COVID and lost it! With no smell, I literally could not taste food and didn’t want to eat. In fact, eating became extremely unpleasant and confusing. I had to make myself do it, and often actually felt nauseous. I’ve never been so depressed and confused in my life, and I’ve been through a lot! It turns out that smell is super emotional for us humans, connecting to the limbic system and memory. Without it, we become deeply disoriented.
2) Loss of your sense of smell can affect your health drastically.
I recovered my sense of smell relatively quickly (it usually takes about 30 days to return), but some of you may not be so lucky. Some people do loose the sense of smell due to an infection, neurological disease, or other causes. As many as 16 million Americans, even before COVID, have an impaired sense of smell, and more research is needed to help those folks.
3) You can develop and expand your sense of smell – and have fun doing it!
There are over 400 different kinds of chemoreceptor neurons in your olfactory organ, but they can combine in many different ways to create over 100,000 different smells. It’s also quick and direct, sending some information straight to your cortex as mentioned before. You can instantly tell if your food is good, or has gone bad. You can tell the difference between two very similar but different plants, or people, purely through smell.
So let’s give it a little love…. first of all, here is a picture of the olfactory bulb, which sits in the sinus cavity space right between your eyes:
And here is a picture of where the nerve is in your brain (this image is drawn as if looking at your brain from below):
Here is a three step awareness exercise to help you connect with your first cranial nerve:
1) Breath through your nose, allowing your lips to be softly closed without clenching your teeth. Think of saying the letter N, which will bring your tongue to rest lightly on the roof of your mouth. How deep inside your head does the sensation of the cool air coming in go? If you can count your breaths up to 10, you have just done some meditation!
2) Bring any object nearby close to your nose and notice the difference in smell between the “general air” you were breathing and the object. Could you even name or articulate this smell? It is beyond words, subtle, yet distinct. Why don’t we enjoy this sense more…?
3) Bring your own hand into the smelling zone. Do you have a smell?
Lately, when I go on a walk, I make a point of actually smelling plants, not just flowers. I’m amazed at how different each one smells! I believe that I can educate and expand my sense of smell simply by practicing in this way. I’ve noticed that my pleasure in food is increasing (as well as my desire to avoid foods that don’t smell so good!).
Here is a fun activity that illustrates how connected smell and taste are. Fun for kids too!
We will explore other aspects of this nerve and organ next week – see you then. And if you want to explore deeply how each cranial nerve affects your overall physicality, orientation, balance and coordination, check out my Cranial Nerve Sequencing offer.